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Old salt collection truck on Salar de Uyuni
Aged truck collects salt on remote Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt pan and potential source of lithium carbonate salts. Photo courtesy of George Mason.

Lithium Reserve Rebuttal

Keith Evans offers his response to the on-going debate on lithium availability

By Keith Evans

See Mr. Evan's previous position paper on lithium reserves entitled, Lithium in Abundance.

The recent announcement that the Bolivian Government is to finance a pilot plant at the Salar de Uyuni (I assume the sum of $5.7 million referred to is also to cover other evaluation aspects that are necessary in a Feasibility Study) moves the Uyuni reserves into the category of reserves at “active and proposed operations”. In addition, I have been reliably informed that I understated the reserve estimate for the Rockwood Holdings (formerly Foote) claims at the southern end of the Salar de Atacama by 100,000 tonnes Li (thus 600,000 versus 500,000 tonnes).

My revised figures, therefore, are 19.6 million tonnes at current and proposed operations in a total of 28.5 million tonnes Li.

Now I would like to comment on the observations of some of your correspondents. First, Sr. Zuleta who has developed a recent interest in lithium economics. [See: Peak Lithium or Lithium in Abundance?].

He prefers figures developed by Don Garrett in his Handbook which are ‘rather more updated, detailed and documented’ and goes on to compare our respective tonnages for pegmatites and brines. My pegmatite figures are essentially the same as those in the 1976 National Research Council report except for those for China and Russia which was beyond the earlier report’s scope. The figures have not been seriously challenged in thirty years and are restated in the USGS Open File Report 80-1234. Many of the brine figures have become available only very recently - China, Tibet, Argentina and revised figures for Chile. Unfortunately, Dr. Garrett passed away in 2006 and the latest edition of his Handbook was published in early 2004 so any of his figures are hardly up to date.

Zuleta’s comments on Garrett’s greater number of references is because of the nature of his publication which was directed at earth scientists who would be interested, principally in the genesis and geological setting of individual occurrences. For those interested, a similar excellent report is included in the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Inc’s “Industrial Minerals & Rocks” written by Dr Ihor Kunasz one of the authors of the 1976 NRC study. It, too, contains plenty of references but doesn’t get into reserves in any detail other than quoting the 1976 report. My report is limited, almost exclusively, to reserves and resources and is based on the NRC report, published papers, company news releases, company annual reports and personal communications with responsible qualified individuals.

As my report makes clear, it was written in response to irresponsible statements regarding lithium availability and was aimed at an audience of potential large scale users who, I assumed, would not be too interested in the detailed geology of individual occurrences.

One final point concerns Zuleta’s comment on the USGS estimate of current demand. If he looks at the figure more closely he will almost certainly find that it includes the tonnages of lithium contained in ores and ore concentrates sold to the glass and ceramic industries and thus nothing to do with chemical demand.

Regarding Dr. Tahil’ observations it is difficult to comment on such statements as “(the report) seems similar to OPEC’s actions in the later 1980’s” and “claiming millions of trillions of barrels of oil in oil shales and tar sands is irrelevant”. I agree that flow rate is of great importance and I am sure that dozens of supply/demand studies exist with varying conclusions. I am not qualified to comment particularly without having a clearer picture of Chinese production aspirations. However, his suggestion that the market is currently undersupplied doesn’t fit with comments in the latest Quarterly Report of SQM, the largest producer, where it states that lithium sales were down by 10% due largely to increasing Chinese production.

Other correspondents have, of course, made the point that existing motor vehicles are not all going to be abandoned overnight, that other battery systems will be developed and that the lithium content of lithium-ion varieties can be recycled. I wish Dr. Tahil more luck in pushing his zinc-air battery. If it is so attractive he should not have to expend so much time on attacking the issue of lithium availability.

Times Article Viewed: 13839
Published: 13-Jun-2008

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